Among Delaware employers and in the world of employment law nationally, there has been much talk about Web 2.0 and the power of social networking tools. Delaware businesses, like employers across the country, are worried about what is being said about them online. They should be.
Many of you already know about the impact weblogs and online social networks can have on a business. Of course, these impacts can be both good and bad. If it were all bad, I wouldn’t be blogging on our department’s firm-sponsored blog. Many businesses have begun to embrace these new mediums to reach a broader audience. They’ve turned to social networking to communicate with a broader audience in an effort to maximize exposure to their products, their message, or their brand.
Other businesses have felt first-hand the negative impact of Web 2.0 communications. For example, some companies felt massive financial reverberations because a popular blogger posted about his or her negative experience with the company’s product or services. The comments can spread uncontrollably on the web and employers are left without any real recourse.
Another common scenario involves blogging employees. With the explosion of the blogosphere, employees have taken to the web to share their personal stories of triumph and tragedy. Sometimes their stories include not-so-nice commentary about their workplace. The employer is put into a very difficult situation. If they terminate the blogger, they may be able to at least cut off the blogger’s supply of “material” that can be put online. But termination is not without risk. The terminated employee may respond with more hostile posts than ever before. And, as newly unemployed, the blogger has plenty of time on his hands to post, and post, and post.
So what to do? We counsel our employment-law clients to institute a blogging policy if they haven’t done so already. This is not to say that, as employment lawyers, we advocate for a flat-out ban on employee blogging. But, at the very least, there should be a policy in place providing that any employee whose blog posts include the company’s confidential information or trade secrets, will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination.
A different approach used by some employers could be described as the, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em policy.” Some companies may go so far as to hire a Chief Blogger In Residence. The CBR’s job is to post like crazy about the positive aspects of the company, its employees, or its products. The Chief Blogger also scans the web to monitor what others are saying and provide an appropriate response.
Given the cost, CBRs are not exactly commonplace., As an alternative, an employer can use online notification tools like Google Alerts, which will search the web for your company’s name. When new “hits” are discovered, you recieve an e-mail alert with a link to the site where the company’s name was found. Searching for yourself or your company is known as a “reputation search.”
There is now a new product designed to do conduct “professional” reputation searches. Trackur promotes itself as an “online reputation monitoring and brand tracking tool. It has been described as “Google Alerts on steroids,” according to the Trackur website. And what makes this pay-for-play, subscription-based tool better than the free Google one? Having not tried it myself, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.
The plans are not cheap. A monthly subscription to have just one search saved and run twice daily is $18 per month. Jump to 5 saved searches and you’re up to $88 per month. I have no experience with Trackur so I can’t say what value it actually has. But even if Trackur isn’t met with fabulous success, I’d be willing to wager that similar monitoring tools are not far behind. Any employer concerned with what its employees are saying about the company, and any business concerned with its online reputation would have good reason to consider an “online reputation-monitoring tool.”
***Prior posts on blogging include: Blogs In the Workplace and Somebody’s Watching You: New Data on Employers’ Electronic Monitoring